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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Making The Blogathon Challenge

I have been participating in a blogathon during May. Michelle Rafter, who blogs at Word Count, is the person who began the Blogathon. She says that the blogathon is an annual event that brings people together for the purpose of becoming better bloggers by posting to their respective blogs every day during the month of May.

This is the 5th year, and the number of participants has grown from 30 the initial year to about 250 in 2012.. Posting 31 consecutive days is not easy. Some bloggers normally  post pretty sporadically, some once a week, others five days a week, which is what I have chosen to do. The ones who post once every few months lose readers faster than a jackrabbit can run through the desert.

So, why did I join the blogathon this year? A writer friend suggested I try it. She'd done it last year and found she enjoyed interacting with other bloggers, had increased traffic to her blog and liked reading other blogs. I figured I had nothing to lose so why not?

It's been fun to check other blogs to see the many different themes, how the blogs are set up, the quality of wriitng and the number of Followers they have. It's obvious that some are quite new to the blogging world while others are old pros. Some have very few readers while others number in the thousands for hits. Raising numbers is a slow process for most bloggers. 

I've seen the number of hits on my blog posts increase this month, and that was my main goal. The big question is whether that will continue, or will these blogathon readers slip off into the night, never to be seen again? 

I enjoyed the challenge, stayed interested and will probably sign up again next year. My thanks to Michelle Rafter for organizing and offering the blogathon. 

Tomorrow, there is a wrap-up party via twitter. The bloggers who managed to meet the challenge and post 31 days in a rwo will be eligible for a drawing with several prizes to be awarded. It would be nice to win a prize, but if not, I can say that I've been rewarded in other ways while meeting the blogathon challenge.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Picture Prompt Writing Exercise

Foliage surrounding door photo

Take a good look at the picture above and use it today for a writing prompt. Don't only glance at the picture and start writing. Study the door, the wall, the foilage, the walk and then, ask yourself a few questions that might help form a story.

1. What country does the picture bring to mind?
2.  Who might be on the other side?
3.  Who is going to walk up to the door and knock?
4.  Who is going to open the door and walk in?
5.  What sounds do you hear as you approach the door?
6.  Is it morning or afternoon?
7.  Why should someone fear knocking on the door?
8.  Why would someone be eager to knock on the door?
9...What time of year is it?

Here's one more picture prompt:

1.  Why is this man alone?
2.  Is he waiting for someone?
3.  What song is he playing?
4.  Where is he?
5.  What kind of hair is under his hat?
6.  Is he a good person or evil?
7.  Does he have a happy nature or sad?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

An Unusual Gift

Today is my birthday. The number of candles would set that cake ablaze if there were one for each year I've celebrated. I love birthdays, my own and other peoples' too. It's the most special day of the year, all your own. And who doesn't like to receive that extra bit of attention via cards, phone calls, emails, and even a few gifts.? 

It's an unusual gift that I'd like to tell you about today. I received it two days ago, but I considered it an early birthday present. A writer friend sent me a lengthy critique of a personal essay I'd submitted to my online writers group. She sent it to me privately, not through the group. She told me about all the things that were wrong with it and she backed up her thoughts with concrete reasons. 

It's true that no one likes to be shown where they went wrong, but when I receive a critique, I try to look at it in a positive way. I know that this critiquer is trying to help me make an essay about something dear to my heart as good as it can possibly be. It's one I hope to enter in a contest.

I read through the very lengthy email and decided it needed my undivided attention, so I closed it and went back to it the next morning. I read through it, paragraph by paragraph, trying to absorb the comments bit by bit. I realized several things when I finished. Mr friend is very insightful. She picked out little things that others who had critted this piece missed altogether. She backed up her criticisms with sound advice. She did it all with kindness and even paid me a much-appreciated compliment. 

I wrote to her almost in equal length as to what she'd sent me. I thanked her for putting me on a good revision path and told her that her compassionate, honest and helpful critique was most assuredly something I considered as an early birthday gift. Not all birthday presents are wrapped and tied with a pretty ribbon.

If you get a critique on a poem or story that points out a great many needed revisions, don't be upset. Be thrilled that someone is there to help you make a good piece of writing a much better one.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Soldiers and Angels

This is the last of the three essays for Memorial Day week-end. This one was prompted by a very moving visit my husband and I made to a WWII American cemetery in France. The essay was published in The Best Times, a newspaper for seniors in the Kansas City area. It seemed appropriate for thie Memorial Day 2012. If you enjoy it, please pass it on to others.

Rhone American Cemetery
Soldiers and Angels

On a two week visit to France, I didn’t expect to be moved to tears and left with a memory etched on my heart forever.

 After a day and a half exploring Nice, our group of forty-two Americans boarded a motor coach to travel to a river cruiser for the next leg our our trip. Our program director announced that we’d be making a stop at the WWIIRhone AmericanCemetery in Draguignan where 861 U.S. soldiers are buried. These soldiers were ones who died in this part of France during the August 1944 invasions.

The southern invasion of France is not so well-known as the D-Day invasion along the beaches of Normandy in northern France. The invasion from the Mediterranean Sea began in August of 1944 and holds its own important place in the history of the war and with the French people.

We were informed there would be a wreath laying ceremony for our group of seniors, many of whom remembered those war years as either veterans or children of vets. I was a small child during those years, but I still remember many little things about our life at the time, and I have read a great deal about this period in history because it feels personal to me.

We filed silently through impressive iron gates. The brilliant blue sky was dotted with fluffy white clouds, and the sun warmed us. The rustle of leaves in the many stately trees that surrounded the cemetery proved to be the only sound as we gazed at the rows of white crosses and Stars of David. No one spoke as we moved between the graves on the pristine grounds, reading names until the cemetery director arrived.

He told us the soldiers’ families all had the option to have their loved one’s body repatriated or to have them buried near the place they had died in battle. How difficult, I thought, such a decision would be. Sometimes, there were no parents left at home, or a young wife had already moved on with her life and needed no reminders of an earlier marriage, and so the fallen soldier never went home, staying in France where he died.

Everyone strolled slowly along the path that led to a large stone memorial depicting an angel. It served as one outside wall of an open air chapel.

Inside the chapel, a stone altar was dwarfed by the huge mosaic picture that towered above it. The mural-like picture, done predominantly in shades of blue, featured an angel in the center. My eye was drawn to her first, and though I studied the other, smaller figures, my gaze kept returning to her. The angel was seated. She cradled the body of an American soldier. The artist managed to capture a pure love in this figure. He succeeded in drawing visitors’ eyes to this central theme. Gazing at the two figures, I felt a lump in my throat and my eyes brimmed with unshed tears. Yet, I could not stop looking.

I thought about my uncle who flew missions over Germany but came home. I thought about my friend’s uncle who spent half of the war in a prison camp. I thought about my dad’s cousin who died in a plane that exploded on a runway. I thought about the memorial plaque at my grade school that listed the names of graduates who had not come home. The angel and soldier in the mural spoke for all of them.

Our program director held a large bouquet of fresh flowers. She asked if there were veterans of any war present who could participate in the wreath laying. The red, white and blue ribbon tails on the floral piece fluttered in the soft breeze that swept into the chapel from the two open sides.

Three men stepped forward. I learned later that two were veterans of WWII, having been very young men in the final days when they were called up. The third appeared to be a bit younger, although all had gray hair. He had been a pilot in the Korean War. Their shoulders were a bit rounded, and wrinkles creased their faces. As they neared the altar, they stood side by side, the rest of us gathered behind. The trio marched forward and laid the floral tribute between the Christian cross and the Star of David.  The three men snapped to attention, standing taller than they had in years and saluted the soldier lying in the angel’s arms. For one magic moment, they were young soldiers again. Even these many years later, they shared a common bond.

The gentle breeze of only moments earlier turned stronger, and the now-frantic rustling of the leaves surrounded us on both sides of the open-air chapel as we were invited to sing our national anthem. One or two people began slowly, and soon others joined in.

I tried to sing, but the emotion of the moment rose up and blocked my throat so thoroughly, I could not have sung had my life depended on it. Instead, I listened to the strong words of the song that is the pride of our nation.

As we retraced our steps through the cemetery, passing row upon row of graves, I thought of what so many Americans had sacrificed during the war fought on foreign shores during my childhood years. Lives were lost and families grieved, but others lived freely because of it.

I thought of a well-known quote that seemed to fit this small cemetery. All gave some, some gave all.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Any Soldier--Any War, Maybe You Know HIm

Here is the second of three personal essays with a patriotic theme for this week-end. This one was published at an online ezine called Heartwarmers a few years ago for Veterans Day. It is still appropriate for this Memorial Day. If you enjoy it, please pass it on to others.

Any Soldier, Any War—Maybe You Know Him

Some call it Veterans Day while others say Remembrance Day. They are the same day commemorating the same wars, the same men who gave their lives fighting for what they believed in. Some volunteered while the draft nabbed others, but nearly all carried an unseen banner of the country they loved right next to their heart.

Any soldier, any war—maybe you know him.

He left mother and father, sweetheart and friends. Gone were his carefree summer days, spent with boyhood chums. Schoolbooks lay forgotten, dust settling over the covers. Baseball bats and marbles, toy cars and lead soldiers tumbled into a box, saved for the next generation. A letter jacket in the closet, placed there by a boy--would a man return to claim them? 

The boy who braved the high school football field turned into a young man whose hands trembled as they quickly wiped a tear from a cheek the first time he went into combat. Knees quaked and his heart beat double-time until training of both boot camp and a lifetime before that kicked in. The little unseen banner of his country fluttered right over his heart bringing calm and a determination to do all deemed necessary.

He fought in scorching heat and bitter cold, through fields of flowers in spring and myriad fallen leaves in autumn. He battled through daytimes and in moonless nights.

In the quiet moments, thoughts spiraled backward to home, to Mom and Dad, and Christmas trees, and baseball games, and to turkey dinners and ice cream sundaes. He fingered a treasured photo of Carol, the girl he loved, and swallowed the lump in his throat that rose whenever he studied her face. He’d taken the picture on one of the last days before he left for the army camp. A wisp of her dark hair had blown across her forehead, and her hand looked poised to sweep it back into place. She’d posed with her free hand on a hip and a quirky smile on her face, as though she might make a wisecrack at any moment. He slipped the picture into his pocket when the thunder of guns drew closer.

He adjusted his helmet, gripped his rifle in both hands, and scanned the line of trees ahead. Was there some soldier from the other side creeping closer? Did he, too, think of home during a lull in the fighting? Did he have a photo of the girl he loved? Wasn’t he fighting for his country, too? The insanity of it all sometimes swept over him like a wave crashing on the beach.

Countries disagreed and made war, but only the men who fought were lost. Some soldiers died, while others lived to carry the horrors of war forever, to hide them deep within, letting them surface only occasionally. Despite the human loss, countries rose again from the ashes like a phoenix to grow strong, to wait for a new generation, to wage war yet again.

He promised himself to never forget his fallen comrades, the towns and families they’d liberated, the good that evolved from the scathing waste of war. He’d march in every Veterans Day parade until his legs would carry him no more. And he’d wipe a tear from his cheek when other boys left childhood things to cross the sea and fight the next enemy.
He’d wear the poppy in his buttonhole right over the unseen banner that still fluttered across his heart.

For God and country, he would remember, with pride and regret, those who did not return.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Memorial Day Or Thanksgiving?

Yesterday's post was about writing personal essays with a patriotic theme. I am going to post three that I have written in the past. This one was published in the Kansas City Star last Memorial Day. Come back tomorrow for another.

Memorial Day Or Thanksgiving?
By Nancy Julien Kopp

Let’s add something to this Memorial Day. While we honor those who gave their lives for our country, let’s also give tribute to those who serve now in Afghanistan and Iraq, and other parts of the world. The news media gives us the numbers deployed, the numbers who return, the numbers in each country.
The men and women who serve in our armed forces today are not only numbers in a newspaper article. Those who deploy leave behind parents, sisters and brothers, spouses and children, as well as myriad friends. They are people. They laugh, they cry, they love, they endure hardships, they work hard. They are human beings with all the emotions you and I experience. They sweat, they like to eat three times a day or more, they enjoy fellowship with others, they pray, they shake with fear more often than we’ll ever know. They are warm, living beings—not numbers in a news account.
The people in each brigade smile, cry, tell jokes, and treasure the photos of loved ones. They have headaches and stomachaches like you and I. They get slivers
in their fingers and bruises on arms and legs. They’re no less vulnerable to physical ailments than any of us, but they face dangers we have never dreamed of.
I live near an army post, so I frequently see uniformed soldiers. They stop at the grocery store on their way home from work just like teachers and attorneys and librarians do. They pick up their children at soccer fields as a civilian mom or dad does. We are all very much alike, except for one thing. These soldiers, male and female, have volunteered to serve, to protect our country at home and in foreign lands, to perhaps put their life in danger while doing so.
Have you ever thanked a soldier or marine or sailor? Maybe you’d feel uncomfortable walking up to a total stranger and saying, “Thanks for all you do for me and the rest of America every day.” You can give a great gift by saying something like it to a member of the armed forces. Think about it the next time you see an American in uniform.
A few years ago, my husband and I were returning from a visit to Europe. We were tired and anxious to get through customs when we landed in the USA. As we approached the passport checkpoint, a door opened and an entire unit of uniformed soldiers filed through. They were returning from Iraq, an even longer flight than we’d had. We stopped and watched these fatigued young men and women as they walked by. Some nodded and smiled, others stared straight ahead. Some I could barely see for the tears that filled my eyes. I wanted so badly to say Welcome Home to them, but the lump in my throat didn’t allow it. The pride that encompassed me at that moment cannot be described. I was every soldier’s mother for just an instant.
And what about the ones who didn’t return to walk through that airport door--the ones who came home in a body bag or a wooden coffin. My pride in them is every bit as strong along with a deep and abiding gratitude in what they gave for the rest of us. They sacrificed so that we continue to live in a free country and that others might, too. 
On Memorial Day or any day, take time to say thank you to a military person. Say it in person or say it in your heart, but please say it.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Writing A Patriotic Essay

We're heading into a patriotic week-end and you'll be seeing a lot of essays dealing with Memorial Day--honoring those lost in our many wars, as well as veterans, and today's military personnel. I've written several over the years. Some have been for Memorial Day and others meant for Veteran's Day. They fall into the creative non-fiction or personal essay category.

I thought now might be a good time to talk about things to remember when writing an essay of this type. I've listed a few below.

1.  Include a bit about the holiday if you can. How or when did Memorial Day, Veteran's Day, Fourth of July start. Keep it minimal for that is probably not your primary objective.

2.  It's OK to be emotional, but don't overdo it. Write it, let it sit awhile, read it and tone it down if it's overly sentimental. Of course, the degree of emotion is going to be different for each writer.

3.  Consider your audience. Who are you directing your essay to? Children? Young Adults? All adults? Seniors? You may want different approaches to these groups.

4. Don't use your essay to rant and rave about things you don't like about the government or the way holidays are handled in your community--or anything of that kind. Save that for another kind of essay.

5.  Add something personal. It always touches people far better than facts and figures.

6.  Create a story within your essay to create and hold the reader's interest.

Over the next few days, I'm planing to post some of my patriotic essays that have been published. It may be too late for you to write and submit a patriotic personal essay for this week's holiday, but the Fourth of July and Veteran's Day are still ahead. Submissions for those holiday need to be sent in soon. Come back Saturday, Sunday and Monday to read them.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Don't Hurry Your Editing

Writers spend a lot of time on a story or article. They think it's done and may send it off to a critique group or a writing buddy to have some other eyes on it. And you know what happens. The objective eyes see so much more than she who has written this masterpiece (or what they hoped was a masterpiece!)

Time to do some editing. I think that a good many writers hurry through an editing job. They make a few revisions lickety-split because they want to get that baby sent to an editor who will publish it. Well, guess what? That's not gonna happen if you don't put some quality time and effort into your own personal editing. 

I've been guilty more than once of hurrying through that process because I wanted to get my story out. Sure, I made some revisions, but maybe they weren't the best ones. If I go through the piece and make my changes, then let it sit at least overnight, even two to three days, I'm going to know if my revisions made this a better piece of writing. When I go back and read through the story later rather than sooner, I an probably going to end up with a better story.

Case in point--I've been working on a personal essay to send to my Kansas Authors state contest. It's one that is filled with emotion and I tried to be careful to not overdo that. I sent it to my critique group and had some great responses and some suggestions on wording, additions, parts that may be unnecessary. Last night, I spent a fair amount of time going through the crits and making changes in my essay. I read through it and felt pretty good about the way it sounded. Even so, I closed the file and left it. Later today, I'll read through it, then I'll read it aloud. No doubt in my mind--I'll probably make a few more changes in it. I'll let it sit overnight again and by tomorrow I should be ready to say it's in final form, ready to send to the contest. It may not win but I'll know that I gave it my best shot.

Don't hurry your editing. You'll increase your chances of winning a contest or getting a story published by a great deal if you take your time. I can hear some of you saying But what about deadlines? What if I don't have time?  We all know the answer to that one. Start early enough to allow the time needed. A hurry-up job often looks like a hurry-up job!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Pondering On Blogging

The blogathon challenge today is to write a post that finishes the following sentence. If I started blogging today, I would.... I've given it some thought for the past few days.

I think there is going to be a huge range of responses to this one. Some bloggers will berate themselves over every little thing. I can imagine what some of them might say. Look at this list in italics and see how many relate to your blog or a blog of someone you know

Some people's answers to If I started blogging today, I'd... might be:

I'd post more often than every couple of months.

I'd put more thought into my posts.

I'd be more active in recruiting readers.

I'd look at more than one blog provider.

I'd ask other bloggers for advice.

I'd use some clipart or graphics once in awhile.

I'd finish with a question to encourage comments.

I'd respond to people who took the time to send a comment.

I'd try to vary my posts a little more so the blog doesn't become boring.

I'd have guest bloggers.

I'd stay with the theme of my blog, not jump all over.

I'd increase my reading of other blogs.

I'd post my blog titles on twitter, facebook and wherever else I might find readers.

For me--If I started blogging today, I would not change a great deal. On the whole, I'm pretty satisfied with my blog. I've tried to do most of those things mentioned in italics above. I gathered as much information as my brain would hold before I took the bold step of setting up my blog and writing that first post. Right now, I have no idea what the subject of that first effort was. I've been blogging for about 3 years. I started out 7 days a week because I knew readers want new content on a regular basis. If it isn't there, they move on. After a few months, I cut back to Monday through Friday.

The one thing I would change is the name of my blog. I chose Writer Granny's World because it is pretty descriptive of me. But after awhile, I got to thinking that the name might turn off a lot of young writers. I considered changing it, but then I feared losing some of the Followers and readers already established. I am a writer granny, so I left it as is.  The sub-name--My Writing World With Tips and Encouragement For Writers--tells exactly what this blog is about. I like it as is and maybe younger readers will respond to that.

Like all bloggers, I hope to continue to increase my Followers and readers. The Blogathon Challenge this month has helped in that department.

Readers, what would you like to see change on this blog? Send me a wish list and I'll see what I can do.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

You Can Too!

A long, long time ago, I sat at the kitchen table with my family eating dinner. I must have been around 13, and I remember a snippet of conversation as clearly as though it happened yesterday, not sixty years ago. 

I said, "I think I'd like to work in advertising."  (My inner writer was trying to surface even then.)

My dad replied, "Women can't do a job like that. You'd never be able to keep up with the men. You couldn't do it." And he went back to concentrating on his dinner plate. 

Needless to say, I felt a bit deflated. No, it was more than a little, it was a lot!  I'd been told I couldn't do something, that I wasn't good enough to make it in a field that interested me. My dad was of the old school. You know the ones--they wanted women to stay in one or two little slots and to know their place. Be a homemaker, or maybe a teacher, nurse or secretary. Anything more than that was unthinkable in the eyes of people like my dad. Over the years, I'm happy to note, that kind of attitude has changed. Women can enter any field of work they like and compete with both other women and men 

I repeated my interest in writing for the advertising world several more times through my high school years and got shot down by Dad every time. I stored each of those put-downs in the inner recesses of my mind. I also wanted to teach and that is the field I entered after college. I never got to work in advertising, but I did become a writer many years beyond that time. 

Delving into the world of writing much later in life than most wasn't easy. Little voices in my mind kept telling me I wasn't qualified, I shouldn't try to get into a world I knew nothing about. They all sounded just like my dad's voice. But guess what? My desire to write rose far above my hesitancy and I came out the winner. 

As a parent, I tried to encourage my children in whatever field or activity they showed an interest. I didn't want them to have to deal with doubting themselves like I did. My dad had many good qualities, but he tried to limit me to what he felt was safe and achievable. 

My outlook today is to reach for the stars and be a winner. How about you? Don't let those silent but powerful voices of doubt and fear keep you from trying what you really want to achieve. I did it. You can too!

Monday, May 21, 2012

I Do Haiku!

Today's challenge for those participating in the Blogathon Challenge is to post haiku poems. I got interested in haiku a few years ago at a writer's conference after a presentation by a poet from New York who writes contemporary haiku. Elaine Holoboff started a project which I followed until she stopped posting a new haiku each day. You can still read the ones she posted (over 350 of them) here.

Thanks to Elaine, I have written several haiku poems but still rate myself as a rank amateur. However, for the sake of today's challenge, I'll post a few of them here. 

Claude Monet's garden in Giverny France Stock Photo - 6425958

In Monet’s garden--
glorious burst of color
a balm to my soul

Male Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) in flight Stock Photo - 9241855

feather floats softly
on gentle autumn breeze
bird flies, loss unknown

gravestones in France
all weep tears of anguish
senseless deaths, futile war

Red Cell Phone

Grandma starts to text
media blitz, headline news
old dog learns new trick

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Recognition and Appreciation

Stock Illustration - military dog tags. 
fotosearch - search 
clipart, illustration 
posters, drawings 
and vector eps 
graphics images
Keep this in mind
In our church service this morning, the pastor asked all active military and veterans to stand and be recognized in honor of Armed Forces Day. My husband got to his feet as did many other men and a few women. The pastor said what many in the congregation were thinking--Thank you for your service to our country. It only took a moment, but I think many who were in attendance will think about it today.

Memorial Day will be celebrated in only a week's time. This week gives you time to write a story, a tribute, an essay or a poem to honor our veterans. You can send it to your local newspaper or you can include it in your family memory book. It's probably too late to get it published elsewhere for this year, but you might save it in a file and submit it early next spring to an appropriate magazine or ezine. 

Last year, I sent something I'd written to the Kansas City Star for a column they run called As I See It. I didn't know the short essay had been accepted until I opened my newspaper on Memorial Day morning. Several people in our community thanked me for writing it.

Consider showing your appreciation to a veteran or an active military member in whatever way you can. You can do it as formally or informally as you like. If nothing else, a smile as you pass a soldier in the grocery store aisle is worth a lot. I'm fortunate to live near a military  post so I encounter people in uniform frequently. They're a part of my community and I'm grateful to have them. I can make a batch of brownies and leave them with an officer's wife who sees that they are used during deployment times when families gather to send off their loved ones. Simple things like that give needed support.

Keep in mind all the military does now and what those veterans of several wars and peacetime efforts have given to you. Some of the freedoms we take for granted are there because of our military. 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Update Your Family Memory Book

Me at age 10

It's time to think about adding to your Family Memories book. I'm a big proponent of writing about your memories so that your grandchildren and beyond that generation will know what life was like in your growing-up years. A painless way to learn a bit of history. Do it month by month, or even holiday by holiday. Keep it together as a book. Make it as plain or as fancy as you like. What's important is the inside content. Add pictures or let your words bring the visual images.

Here are a few of my May memories:

The Merry Month of May

May is my favorite month. I was born in May, my parents were married in May, Mother’s Day comes in May, my youngest brother was born in May, and I had many a memorable Memorial Day celebration in May. Let me tell you a little about each of these events.

I always loved having a May birthday in my growing up years because it was not too close to Christmas and it arrived just prior to summer. That meant I often received new summer clothes as a gift from my parents. I loved opening those gifts looking for the surprise inside, usually something in rainbow sherbet colors to complement my fair skin and auburn hair. But the year I was in sixth grade, I opened a birthday package at the dining room table with my mother, father, and two younger brothers all watching. I untied the pink ribbon, opened the box and spread the tissue paper. There lying in all its glory was my first bra. I looked at it, then around the table at my family, and I felt the heat creep up from my toes to the top of my head. My face flamed in humiliation. I slammed the lid on the box and moved on to the next package. To this day, I cannot imagine why my mother did that to me. But there were other special birthday memories. One occurred that very same year. It was 1951 and my 12th birthday. A classmate had a birthday 3 days prior to mine, so we had a combined birthday luncheon that year. We had an hour and fifteen minutes for lunch, so it was not problem for all the girls in our class to walk to Carole’s house where our mothers waited with food and drink, cake and ice cream. We’d given an invitation to each girl in the class and also invited our teacher—Mr. Biddinger. He was the first man to teach in our grade school and became the most loved. The girls all brought a gift for each of us, but I have no idea what any of them were. Mr. Biddinger brought both birthday girls a gift that I’ll never forget. He handed each of us a white box, and nestled inside was a corsage made of two spicy scented carnations held together by a pink ribbon bow. It was the first corsage I’d ever had, and the thrill it gave has lasted to this very day.

My mother and father celebrated their first anniversary two days after I was born. They’d run away and eloped a year earlier, been married secretly for six weeks. One day my grandmother confronted Mom and with ice in her voice said, “You’re married, aren’t you?” Mom nodded her head, and there must have been fear spreading throughout her limbs. Grandma glared and told her, “Then you’d better go live with your husband.” Her two older brothers were angry, too, that she’d married that no-good guy, and they refused to speak to him. But the day after I arrived on the scene, the entire family gathered at Mom’s bedside, admiring yours truly lying in her arms. My two uncles reached across the bed and shook my dad’s hand. Suddenly, he was part of the family, and the three men became the best of friends. Even Grandma relented and decided to accept him. Babies soothe many a troubled heart.

Mother’s Day comes in May, too. And I’ve had some miserable ones when my children were going through their teen-age years, and then there have been some that are dear to my heart. When I was in college, I went home with my roommate on Mother’s Day week-end during my Senior year. I went because she asked me and we had a ride to her hometown. It was a week-end away and didn’t cost me a penny, and in those college years, each penny was carefully counted. It wasn’t until years later that I learned how hurt my own dear mother had been that I had chosen to go home with my roommate instead of coming to spend the week-end with her. At the time, it never crossed my mind that she’d be hurt, and years beyond, it was too late to make it up to her. It still bothers me.

My baby brother was born two weeks before I turned sixteen, an unexpected addition to our family. I had two brothers already and I wanted a baby sister in the worst way, but along came Jimmy instead. The moment I laid eyes on him, I loved him, and I still do. He’s in his fifties now, but he’s still my baby brother and always will be. He’s the only one who didn’t witness me receiving my first bra at my 12th birthday celebration.

May finishes with Memorial Day week-end. Every year from kindergarten through eighth grade, all the students in Lincoln School marched by classes to Carroll Playground across the street. Every class selected a boy to carry the American flag and a girl to carry a bouquet of flowers to lay at a commemorative plaque honoring all those who had attended Lincoln School and had given their lives during WWII and the Korean War. A solemn ceremony accompanied the laying of the flowers. In those days Memorial Day was always May 30th and we had the ceremony the day before, which just happened to be my birthday. Because of that fact, I was chosen to carry the flowers almost every year, and the strange thing is that no one ever complained. It was accepted, and it made me feel so very special. The parade of classes, the patriotic songs, the many American flags waving, the speeches, and the floral offerings all instilled a great sense of patriotism in me that lasts to this day.

Yes, May is a very special month for me with memories that warm my heart.  Always was and always shall be. At least, I hope so.

Friday, May 18, 2012

People Watching

Stock Photo - spelling blocks. 
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Last night, Ken and I went to a dinner/theater in Kansas City. The play was a bit of a surprise as it was a musical, which  we didn't expect. "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" was filled with lots of comic moments, some good songs and a fine cast. The play was about a group of 8th graders participating in a spelling bee. Through songs and dialogue, we learned a lot about each one.

Three people from the audience were called up to the stage to be a part of the play, and all three did a superb job. The dinner was excellent, the wine more than fine, the service professional but friendly. There's a lot of waiting time between dinner and the beginning of the play, again at intermission when dessert and coffee is served. I spent some of it people watching.

I've been writing lately about being tuned in to your surroundings, and this was the perfect place to do that. I fantasized a bit with some of the people I saw. By that I mean that I tried to 'write a mental paragraph' about the ones who looked especially interesting.

There was the very elderly man who was celebrating his birthday, downing a great deal of wine for a man who came in using a walker. I watched a woman dressed all in white with sunglasses pushed up into her white hair eating a gigantic piece of a lemon tart down to the very last crumb. I noted a woman who was so thin it hurt to look at her. There was a man wearing red suspenders who had the liveliest eyes. He looked like he'd be a great dinner companion. I heard his deep, rich laugh several times.

I noticed the efficient waiters, each of whom are a story. In fact, each and every person in that theater has a story. It's fun to guess what some of them might be or to make up a story using the character traits that were visitble to me this evening.

Wherever you go, look around you. And I mean really look! Make notes if you like or keep those pictures in your mental file and write notes when you get home. People watching is an enjoyable pastime and can be mighty helpful to writers.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Are You A Watch Dog?

Young black dog sleeping on the grass Stock Photo - 12681379

We are at our daughter's home for a short visit. I was up very early this morning so I could see the children before the school bus arrived at 6:45 a.m. Awfully early for little kids to be ready to go to school, but they're totally into the routine. Cole, who is finishing kindergarten this month, was watching TV after he'd eaten breakfast. Their big,black dog ambled over to be petted. I complied and was stroking her soft fur and I asked, "Did you sleep well, Macy?" 

Cole popped up from where he was laying on the sofa. "She never sleeps, Grandma. She's a Watch Dog!" 

I told him that Macy does sleep, but she has really good ears, and if she hears the slightest thing, she wakes up and keeps an eye on the house. Cole nodded his head, said, "Yes, she does." and went back to watching his show. 

So how about your writer's ears? Are they tuned in to possible writing subjects? You might not hear things while you're asleep like Watch Dog Macy does, but all during your waking hours, you should have your ears ready to pick up on possible story ideas. 

Have you ever heard snatches of conversation as you pushed your cart down the aisle of your favorite grocery store? You might hear an especially interesting phrase now and then, something you can use in dialogue in a fiction story. Waiting in a doctor's reception area is a perfect spot to leaf through a magazine while you keep your ears perked up. You come across some amazing things in a place like that. Or at one of your kids or grandkids ballgames.  

The point here is that, as writers, we need to be very much aware of our surroundings. Not just what we hear but also what we see, maybe even what we smell or taste or even touch. On a fall day, when neighbors are burning leaves, take a good whiff and think about how you'd describe it in a story. What does  ice cream taste and feel like when you take that first bite? Think about it. When you run your hand across a bolt of fabric at a craft store, consider what it feels like. 

Train yourself to be a Watch Dog wherever you go. You'll gather gold for your writing if you do.

My grandchildren and their parents have all left for the day. As for Macy--she's in her favorite chair, sound asleep. But I bet she's listening. After all, she's a Watch dog!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

My Second Act

Clipart Puzzle Of Colorful Pieces Fitting Together - Royalty Free Vector Illustration by Pushkin

My second act didn’t begin until I was well into my fifth decade.. Life is a puzzle with pieces that somehow fit together by the time we're done. It took more than fifty years and a whole lot of patience to find one of the most important of my puzzles pieces. And when I did, it fit perfectly into what was already there.

From the time I was a little girl I wanted to write stories. I excelled in my English classes. It was one subject that I looked forward to, received top grades and soaked up every word the teachers offered.  Helping out at home and working to save money for college left me little extra time to pursue my passion for writing in high school so I put it on hold.

College and working summers so I could return to college filled the next four years. Suddenly, I was a teacher and my extra hours were devoted to lesson plans, extra projects for my students, dating and taking care of my apartment.

Next came marriage, more teaching, then motherhood and supporting my husband in his career. The writing dream remained in the recesses of my busy mind. Someday I’d tell myself, someday I’ll write stories for children. It was a goal I’d set for myself, although I never mentioned it to anyone else.

I loved my life as teacher, wife and mother, but an important piece of the puzzle of my life was missing. Would I find it one day? I sometimes wondered, but it remained elusive.

Suddenly, my children were independent, my husband took a job in a state hundreds of miles away and, after we’d moved, I found myself friendless, bored, and depressed. Flipping through a magazine one too-quiet afternoon, I spied an ad that told me I could learn to write for children through a correspondence course. A tiny spark of interest flickered as I turned the page and then returned to it. I checked the school’s credentials the next day and enrolled. Why not? What did I have to lose?

I finished the course in record time with great enthusiasm, wrote story after story geared to middle grade children, the age group I’d taught so many years before. I joined a small critique group where I learned more about writing and heard encouraging words about my stories. I sold a story and was hooked for life.

I decided to branch out and try writing fiction for adults but I turned out some pretty clich├ęd, lame tales. I tried poetry and some of it was not half bad. Next, I delved into creative non-fiction and a lot of it was published at ezines and then magazines and finally anthologies like Chicken Soup for the Soul and Guideposts. That was where my strength lay. Being one who likes variety in life, I attempted some articles on the craft of writing and many of them were published. I joined an online critique group and then anothe when that one folded. I gained knowledge about our craft, confidence in myself as a writer and some lifetime writer friends.

I started a blog about my writing world with the intent of encouraging other writers, and I found that I enjoyed posting five days a week about a subject I’ve loved for a long, long time.

Lately, I’ve been selling children’s stories and have an editor interested in a juvenile novel I wrote several years ago.

This second act of my life brought me that large and  important piece of my life’s puzzle as well as great satisfaction which continues every time I string words together to create a new story or poem.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Keep Your Passion For Writing Alive

A friend had the poster above on her facebook page yesterday. Definitely advice that is short and sweet but oh so good. I'd like to have it blown up to poster size and tack it to the wall above my computer. Maybe I should get two and put one on the fridge as a reminder to get myself to the office to write. Or how about another in the laundry room? 

It's far too easy to allow life to get in the way of our writing. We have the best of intentions to spend X amount of time writing each day, but our world sometimes has other plans. Children need us, husbands require help in finding something. (What is it about men who have lived in the same place for years and years but still can't find numerous items?) The phone rings, or the doorbell. We're needed at a meeting or must run to the store to pick up milk and bread. The list could go on and on. 

We have responsibilities that must be met, and that's just fine. As long as we keep writing a primary task, we'll be alright. Just don't let it slip farther and farther down the to-do list. Once it hits near the bottom of the list, your writing world is going to become dimmer and dimmer. You run the risk of stopping altogether. I've seen people in my critique group quit. They say things like "I'm just not writing anymore." or "Right now, other things in my life are of more importance." Probably true but it makes me sad.

Most writers pursue their craft because they're passionate about writing. Make no mistake, it takes some doing to keep that passion lit. Like anything else, we sometimes have to truly work at it. We need some encouragement as well. And maybe we need some occasional success to keep the spark alive. 

For now, I'm going to let the poster of those four hunks keep me going. How about you? What will you do to keep your passion for writing alive?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Time To Exercise--Your Writing That Is

Weight Lifting 3 Clip Art

We read all the time about the importance of exercise for both our bodies and our minds. Using our muscles and our brains keep us fit. We need to do writing exercises, too, if we want to keep our writing  up to par and maybe beyond.

So, today I have a new exercise for you. Pump a little iron in a different way.

Write details for the images these phrases bring to mind. Perhaps your efforts will trigger an idea for a story. Make the details sensory. Let us see, hear, smell, taste and feel the touch of some of these items.

1.  Laundry in a wicker basket

2.  an open back door

3.  a broken cup

4.  six ducklings

5.  grandmother's silver locket

6.  twelve cars in the parking lot

7.  a dandelion

8.  jitterbug music

9.  a sink of soapy water

10. an international airport

I Found My Mother

My parents and me in 1942

I wrote the following essay about my mother several years ago. It's been published more than once, but I thought if most fitting on this Mother's Day for those who have lost a mother, whether through the aging process or death.  A part of her will always be with you. 

Finding My Mother
The year is 1943, and I am four years old. The Woolworth Five and Dime in our neighborhood has a creaky wooden floor and smells like penny candy, sickeningly sweet. I walk up one aisle and down another, heart beating fast, until a clerk leans down. “Do you need help, honey?”
My lip quivers, and I voice my fear. “Where is my mama? I can’t find her.” Like magic, my mother appears at the end of the aisle, her steps hurried, my baby brother in her arms. Relief washes over me when we are reunited. She reassures me with simple words. “Don’t worry. I’d never leave you.” But I stay close to her the rest of the day.
War rages in Europe and Asia, but I am oblivious to that situation. My world revolves around my young and pretty mother. She provides everything a four-year-old requires. She reads to me, hears my bedtime prayer, and coaxes me to eat. I develop a sense of humor because she makes laughter a part of our everyday life.
Fast forward sixty-one years, and I have lost my mother again. I can’t find her, even though I know where she lives. She is eighty-six and resides far from me in a nursing home in North Carolina, but the mother I know and love is gone.
Macular degeneration denies her the pleasure of reading. In years past, she devoured novels, fit newspapers and magazines into her daily routine. She celebrated the release of every new John Grisham book.
Physical ailments curtail her activities, and depression erases the keen sense of humor that marked her character until very recently. The weekly letters stop when she loses the ability to pick up a pen and put words on paper. For years, we chatted on the phone—passing on family news, discussing world events, politics, movies, books and more. Now, she refuses to have a phone in her room at the nursing home, effectively cutting herself off from those who love her. Is it because a phone is a sign of permanency? She tells my brother she will be home again as soon as she gains some strength. She knows, and we know, that possibility is unlikely, but no one is strong enough to voice that thought.
She no longer possesses the sharp wit she once displayed regularly or the ability to entertain us with stories about her childhood in an Iowa coal mining town. Mental confusion blurs her days, and her powers of concentration are vastly diminished.
Yes, I’ve lost my mama again. But I’m not four years old. I’m an adult who signed up for Medicare last month, a senior citizen who misses her mother. I pray for her daily. I don’t pray that she will be miraculously well and strong again, for I know the aging process would not allow it. Instead, I pray that she will have comfort and peace in these final years, months, or days that remain. Even so, I feel lost again, and there is no helpful Woolworth clerk to show concern. My mother does not make a magical appearance this time.
Health concerns of my own postpone a planned trip to visit Mother, but little by little I am finding her right here in my own home. My kitchen overflows with reminders. Her blue enamel roasting pan, a painted china plate, a serving bowl and more trigger memories of happy times. The other day I picked up a rolling pin while looking for something in a cupboard, and images of my mother rolling pie pastry, sugar cookies, and cinnamon rolls moved in waves through my mind and brought a smile to my face. She learned from her mother and passed the love of baking on to me. My mother will always be with me when I bake.
Her presence is strong when I skim through my recipe box where her handwriting covers dozens of recipe cards. I linger on some to keep her close a little longer. One card has a note on the top. “Mom’s Date Muffins”, a recipe passed on to her from my grandmother. They are still a favorite of mine, and when I make them, I feel my mother and also my grandmother near. On a recipe shared by my wacky, but lovable, aunt, Mother wrote “Viv’s best cookie.”
Family photographs decorate various rooms in my home, and photo albums help me relive the years when my mother played a vital part in my life. The camera caught her laughing, holding babies, traveling with my dad. Pictures taken with her treasured older brother capture the joy she found in his company. A surprise eightieth birthday party is re-lived in an album of its own. I can wander through my home and find her in these photos whenever I feel the need to be with her.
In some respects, the vibrant mother I once knew slips farther and farther away, but these reminders of the past bring her close. There’s no need to ever feel like a lost child again. On that long-ago day in Woolworth’s she told me she’d never leave me. I know now that she spoke the truth. A part of her will always be with me.
Have you written a story about your mother? If you haven't, maybe now's the time. Make it funny, heartwarming, or even sad. Mothers aren't alike so no two stories about mothers will be the same. Your mother is a unique individual and so are you. 


Saturday, May 12, 2012

Graduation Celebration

The picture above shows us celebrating Janka's graduation. Left to right is me, Petra, Janka and Ken. It was a glorious day for the 750 advanced degree graduates and their friends and families who witnessed the ceremony.

It began with a lone bagpiper, in a kilt of course, walking the perimeter of the floor area of the arena. I love bagpipe music but not all people do. To see him walk slowly as he played was hauntingly beauitful. Next the graduates filed in, each wearing the colors of their field around the robe collar and the tassel on the mortarboard. I got a bit teary when I saw Janka in the long line for I knew how hard she'd worked to get there and how disappointed she was that her family could not attend.

We heard Robert Gates, former Secretary of Defense for both Presidents Bush and Obama, address the graduates with a brief, but meaningful, speech. We watched with pride as Janka received her degree. We knew the hours and hours of time she spends practicing the classical piano pieces, the load of classwork and teaching private piano students as well as playing the organ at a church every Sunday. She survives on little sleep and too many skipped meals, but her passion for what she is doing drives her on. She is a very talented young woman, plays like a professional.

Pictures and a reception came next, and later in the evening, we went to dinner to celebrate. Janka's parents in Slovakia were able to watch the graduation as it was livestreamed over the internet. Isn't this a wonderful world we live in? 

Janka is flying home next week for a two month visit. She hasn't seen her family since last summer and is so eager to spend quality time with them. Her mother scolds her when they skype. "Are you eating, Janka?  You are too thin!" Mothers are like that, and this proxy mother here in Kansas has scolded her about the same thing. 

In August, Janka will move to Lincoln, NE where she will work toward a doctorate in Music, a program which will take her around four years. She has an Assistantship that will help her with expenses while there. I have no doubt that she will one day wear the hood of those who are conferred the Doctor of Music degree. 

Janka's good friend,, Petra, has become our friend, too. Petra is from the Czech Republic. She plays on the K-State tennis team. This is her second year and she will be here another two years. She is an excellent player, has won awards and is ranked #27 in USA college players. She will be playing in the NCAA tournament the week after next, then home to see her family for 2 1/2 months before she starts her junior year at K-State. 

Ken and I are all the richer for knowing both these young women.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Proxy Parents

This is Graduation Day for those receiving Master's Degrees at Kansas State University. We'll be attending since the exchange student we have been a host family to this year will receive her Master's in Music. Janka is a classical pianist from Slovakia. 

She decided on having an adventure with her education when she finished high school. Her sister had gone to England for her college education  but Janka opted for the USA. She spent four years in Natchitoches, LA where she earned her undergrad degree at a state university. Then, it was off to K-State where she has studied hard for two years. She practices the piano many, many hours every week, plays the organ at a local church on Sundays, and gives private lessons to young piano students. Throw in a lot of classwork, and she has been a busy young woman. Even so, she finds time to come to our home for dinner now and then.

We've enjoyed getting to know her and were privileged to attend her recital a few weeks ago. She performed one hour of memorized classical music. I marveled at the grace and ease with which she performed. It's no wonder that she was accepted into the doctoral program at three American universities. She has decided to take the University of Nebraska offer, so she'll be there for the next three years.

Her parents were planning to make the long trip from Slovakia to Manhattan, KS to attend the graduation, but unforeseen circumstances caused them to cancel. It was such a disappointment to this hardworking young woman, but Ken and I will be there for her, sort of proxies for her parents. I know I'll get a little emotional as she walks across a stage to receive that all-important piece of paper. We'll take many pictures after the ceremony and she'll send them to her family far away. Then tonight, we will take her out for a celebration dinner with one of her close friends joining us. 

It's a sunny, mild day--perfect for graduation, but then, isn't any day perfect for graduation?

How about your graduation? What memories do you have? Now's the time to write about any or all the graduations you experienced. Write the stories and put them in the family memories book you're keeping. You are keeping one, aren't you? if not, there's no time like the present to begin. I have a couple graduation stories to write for my memory book. Maybe tomorrow since today is gong to be a busy one.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Artists Of Many Kinds

I've always thought it would be wonderful to be able to paint what you see.  I think about it when I see a magnificent sunset or a mountain so majestic it nearly defies description. If only I could pick up a brush and capture it for others to see.

I've admired sculptures, impressed by the emotion a sculptor can incorporate into a piece of hard stone or marble. My hands would make gravel out of the stone, no piece of art would be seen. If I attempted to mold clay into a recognizable shape, I would fail miserably.

I look at quilts that have been lovingly crafted as a piece of art or a special table runner that was woven in an intricate pattern. Those who work with textiles are artists to be admired.

A floral designer creates art of a different kind. Every day, she arranges living plant life--flowers, branches, leaves, ferns--into beautiful centerpieces.

But wait--writers are artists, too. We paint, we chisel, we weave with a different medium. Words! A good writer is most definitely an artist in her own field.  Several years ago, I wrote a poem for the Kansas Authors state contest theme category. The theme was Pen Life As Art. I thought about it for a long time before attempting to write anything. I finally wrote the following poem which won third place in the contest.

Artists All

Painting with oils,
watercolors brushed across canvas,
clay molded by loving hands,
marble chiseled to exquisite form

Artists ply their trade,
by the golden light of day
and velvet depths of night,
with passion and verve.

One more artist joins the rank.
The writer brushes words over paper,
molds a story bit by glittering bit,
chisels a novel to survive the ages.

The writer gathers life’s stories
from country roads to city streets,
written from the depths of a heart
bursting with intensity and rapture.

Artists all, masters of creation,
be they painters, sculptors or writers,
leaving footprints on canvas, marble and paper--
heartfelt tributes embraced by mankind.

For a writing exercise, use the theme Pen Life As Art and write a poem or prose.

Do you consider yourself an artist as well as a writer? Leave a comment and tell us what you think. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Four Messages

One of the nice parts of being a writer is receiving good news when you least expect it. Yesterday, I was gone until around 4 in the afternoon. After I got home, I sat down to check email. As I scanned the lengthy list, the name of an editor caught my eye, so I clicked on his messages first. Four of them, in fact. 

He sent a message of regret about a story I'd sent six weeks ago. Had a momentary sense of defeat but then moved on to the next message.  That second one was to tell me he loved a story I'd sent and wants to publish it on his ezine for children. The third was same message for another story. Both of the ones he is taking are historical fiction for kids. I think it's a painless way for children to learn history and they're fun to write.  Every time I sell a story, I am thrilled. I'm reminded of my obstetrician who once told me that every baby he delivered was as exciting to him as the very first one. He had a passion for his part in bringing new life into the world, and I think I have a passion for birthing words strung together to create stories. 

The fourth message from the editor was concerning a project we've been discussing. He requested more of it to look at. A good sign but certainly not a "Yes, I want this." So I sent him more of this project and now must wait to hear his thoughts. If receiving good news about a submission is the good part of a writer's life, the waiting to hear is one of the not so hot parts. But wait we must! 

The acceptances overshadow the rejections, and well they should. Far better to enjoy the positives in life than dwell on the negative aspects. Lest you think I am advocating being joyful when you get a rejection, I most certainly am not. A writer has a right to vent a bit of anger, frustration or hurt when the word No looms over her work. Rant awhile, then move on. 

Some months I get several rejections, so I'm not always dong the happy dance like the black cat above, but I sure am ready to do it when a story is on its way to being published.